‘Constructive journalism’ course aims to eliminate unnecessary negativity in the press

Sold out first run indicates journalists’ desire for more positive reporting

A new course teaching journalists how to report news in a way that is relevant to society and not unnecessarily negative is proving popular in Denmark.

The Constructive News course, run by Catherine Gyldensted, a Danish reporter who has a master’s degree in applied positive psychology, and Malene Bjerre, who specialises in conflict resolution, was over-subscribed for its first run in January 2013.

Over the three-day constructive news course, journalists were encouraged to challenge assumptions about how news should be researched and written, and given techniques to help them write more constructively.

The course leaders, who also founded the Danish Society for Constructive News in February, ran the sessions for 16 students through a body called UPDATE, which offers continuing education for reporters in Denmark. The teaching methodology followed the Arbinger technique, which is often used in conflict resolution to enable people to see a more rounded view of a situation.

“The aim is to build skills and awareness within the profession, thus fostering more constructive and solid reporting in news,” Gyldensted told Positive News. “There is increasing interest in what I call the ‘growth interview’, where we focus and highlight solutions in a story, as well as people’s commitment to collaborate and to find ‘takeaways’ from trauma, rather than the default ‘victim’ interview.”

She believes traditional news media often makes the reader feel passive and helpless, rather than engaged in society in a proactive way.

Gyldensted, who has been lecturing on constructive journalism for several years and founded the Facebook page Science of Good News, said most of the students were working in regional news reporting and two-thirds were female.

“Students were really open to our ideas,” she said. “Some regional papers paid for their staff to do the course, which costs £250. With readership dwindling, they are keen to find ways to re-engage with their communities and society.”

At the time of going to press, the two leaders had already taken a number of bookings for a second run of the course in May 2013.

Gyldensted believes that traditional news reporting is not serving individuals, society or the media industry. The reporter, who has worked in national media in Denmark and the US, hopes to see the course expand outside of her homeland in the future. She would also like to launch a course that focuses on building a thriving newsroom.

“If we thrive more, instead of languishing and having that negative focus in everything we do, we might be able to turn our business around,” she said.